A man of action

Mohamed Sissoko, the all-action midfielder known as `Momo', is one of Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's most impressive signings, writes Andy Hampson.

Mohamed Sissoko has developed considerably since moving to Liverpool in the summer of 2005. Benitez knew the player well from his time at Valencia and persuaded him to make the move to Merseyside a year after he did. After a difficult settling-in period that saw Sissoko accumulate a number of cards, his combative and energetic style has made him an Anfield favourite and comparisons with French star Patrick Vieira are not out of place.

Sissoko was born in Mont-Saint-Aignan, Normandy, France, to Malian parents. He was a highly promising player as a youngster — primarily as a striker — but chose to pledge his allegiance to the country of his parents after being overlooked for the France Under-19 team.

"I decided to play for Mali because that's what my heart told me," he said. "Now a lot of people know Mali because I play for Liverpool and (because of) other players too — (Mahamadou) Diarra plays for Madrid."

Sissoko's professional career began with Auxerre but he failed to make a serious impression, and in 2002, at the age of 18, he decided to take up an offer from Valencia. It was there that Benitez first saw his potential as a defensive central midfielder rather than a forward and opted to play him in the more withdrawn role. Sissoko did not look back and went on to play a part in the side that won the Spanish Primera Liga title and UEFA Cup under Benitez in 2004.

By then he had already become a full international and featured in the Mali side that reached the semifinals of the 2004 African Nations Cup. Sissoko played in all five matches in that tournament and scored one goal. He also featured in the Olympic tournament that summer.

Sissoko cost Liverpool GBP5.6 million and the club had to fight off interest from rivals Everton.

Initially Sissoko seemed at odds with the English game. Discipline was a serious concern as he accumulated a number of bookings for reckless tackles. In all, he received 11 yellow cards and one red in his first season in the Barclays English Premier League. On the face of it, his record does not seem to have improved much as he was booked four times in the first seven games of this season but he is now a player more comfortable in his surroundings.

Benitez believes Sissoko's reputation now goes before him and he is booked unfairly because of that and the player can take encouragement from the fact Vieira — regarded as an Arsenal legend — was often in trouble with referees himself during his time in England.

"For me this is good," Sissoko said of the comparisons between him and Vieira. "When people say I am like him it makes me happy. My heroes when I was young were Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Vieira especially."

There were fears for Sissoko's career after he was temporarily blinded in one eye after an accidental kick in the head from Benfica's Beto in a Champions League match in February. His retina was severely damaged and specialists were initially unsure whether he would recover his sight. He actually made a full recovery and was back in action a month later.

Sissoko is currently unattached but has a large family to think about. He is one of 15 brothers and sisters born to and raised by his parents Mohamed and Fatou. He had a poor upbringing in Troyes on the outskirts of Paris and incurred a fine from Benitez while at Valencia for visiting his sick father. He had told the club he was reporting for international duty.

Sissoko may not be the only member of his family to make a name for himself. One of his brothers, Ibrahim, plays for West Brom while another, Abdul, is at Auxerre.

Valencia's sponsorship agreement with Toyota allowed Sissoko a choice of the Japanese manufacturer's cars during his time with the Spanish club. Toyota's most popular cars among footballers are those from under their Lexus brand name. The Lexus RX is a mid-size luxury SUV owned by top players such as Petr Cech.

FACTFILE Name: Mohamed Sissoko Position: Midfielder Club: Liverpool DOB: 22/01/1985 Mali Caps: 10 Mali Goals: 1 Mali debut: versus Morocco, November 2003

Moment to remember: Sissoko featured as a late substitute for Valencia in the 2004 UEFA Cup final and played a full part in Liverpool's dramatic FA Cup final win over West Ham last season. His best performance for the Reds, however, may well have been in this season's FA Community Shield match against Chelsea. Sissoko ran the midfield as the Cup holders beat the Premier League champions in the traditional season opener and was named Man of the Match.

Moment to forget: Sissoko blotted his Liverpool copybook at Sunderland last December when he was sent off for two bookable offences following a couple of rash tackles.

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